2011 Team-By-Team Season Preview: Katusha

Fotoreporter Sirotti

Each year, Pavé previews the upcoming road season with a countdown of the top-20 teams in the sport. We pick things up today with #6.

#6 – Katusha

With 2010’s #1-ranked rider, an improved classics squad, and a bevy of Russian talent to keep the sponsors happy, 2011 should be a banner year for Katusha.

Spain’s Joaquin Rodriguez is the main focal point of the squad.  A stage winner in last year’s Tour and a fourth-place finisher at the Vuelta, Rodriguez will spend the first part of his season focused on success in the Ardennes Classics—he finished second at Fleche Wallonne last year and at Liege in 2009—before deciding whether or not to tackle the Giro d’Italia.  While the difficult course is tempting to the Spaniard and his sponsors, Rodriguez’s Giro track record isn’t great—he’ll likely benefit from a bit of rest following several months of racing in Mallorca, Paris-Nice, Catalunya, and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco.  And besides, with an eighth-place finish in last year’s Tour de France and his third-consecutive top-10 finish in the Vuelta, it’s hard to see him not riding in at least his home Grand Tour this season.

Alongside Rodriguez in many races will be Russian champion, Alexandre Kolobnev. A talented one-day rider who finished second in last year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Kolobnev is arguably the team’s best stage win threat in races such as Paris-Nice, the Giro, and the Tour de France, as he’s less concerned with GC results than Rodriguez. An aggressive rider who loves to attack, many fans would be happy to see the Russian take a win in Ardennes.

In the cobbled classics, Filippo Pozzato leads the way, with help from new signee Leif Hoste and classic veteran stalwart Sergei Ivanov. A cobble specialist, Hoste has three second-places finishes in the Tour of Flanders and an eighth-place finish in Roubaix on his resumé; his expertise and horsepower should prove valuable to Pozzato as he attempts to win his first cobbled Monument.  When in form, Pozzato’s one of the strongest riders in the peloton—especially in Belgium and Northern France.  In 2009 he was arguably stronger than Tom Boonen, but suffered from poor decisions and bad luck in the Ronde and Roubaix. Last year, the Italian came down with a bad case of the flu just days before Flanders.  He skipped the Ronde, but returned with just enough fitness to finish fourth at Roubaix.

And with another flat course on tap, Pozzato will also be a contender at this year’s World Championships in Copenhagen.  He finished a lackluster fourth last year in Melbourne and would relish a second chance to win a rainbow jersey.

Overall, if Rodriguez, Kolobnev, and Pozzato manage to win the team a classic or two and maybe a Grand Tour, the Russian squad will end the year as one of the sport’s best.  But should they fall short of the expectations of sponsors and fans, they’ll be lucky to remain inside the top-10.

Man of the Hour: Joaquin Rodriguez ended last season as the world’s #1-ranked rider.  This year he looks to win his first Grand Tour—possibly at Italy’s Giro d’Italia, but more likely at the Vuelta later in the year. Along the way, Rodriguez should perform well in shorter stage races and the Ardennes Classics—all of which will help the Spaniard in his bid to defend his #1 ranking.

On the Hot Seat: Filippo Pozzato needs to win a cobbled Monument to justify all of the hype he’s received over the past two seasons. A past winner of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 Prijs Harelbeke, only Flanders or Roubaix will suffice at this point in the Italian’s career—although a World Championship certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Up-and-Comer: Denis Galimzyanov scored several top-10 finishes in field sprints last season, including five during the first two weeks of the Vuelta—decent results for a soon-to-be 24-year-old sprinter with little to no lead-out train. Might he be the reason Katusha was willing to say goodbye to Robbie McEwen?

Best Pick-Up: Leif Hoste will bolster Katusha’s squad in the cobbled classics, possibly proving to be the difference-maker for Pozzato.  In fact, with Pozzato drawing most of the competition’s attention, Hoste might have a better chance at Roubaix than he did while leading the team with Lotto.

Biggest Loss: Katusha lost a bit of credibility when it signed Danilo Di Luca to a one-year contract—even if it’s supposedly for little-to-no money. One of the most notorious dopers of the past 10 years, Di Luca is a talented liability who needs to keep his nose clean in order justify the trust Katusha has placed in him. Unfortunately, many fans have already made up their minds.

Share your comments below.

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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10 Responses to 2011 Team-By-Team Season Preview: Katusha

  1. Nick says:

    Pippo has a won a Monument. He won MSR in 2006. He may need to win *another* one, but he's had his big win.

    • Whit says:

      You're right, Nick. I was of course referring to a cobbled Monument–I qualified my statement earlier in the piece, but forget the modifier at the end. Thanks for catching it!


  2. limonata says:

    Don't forget Kolobnev finished twice in 2nd place at the World Road Race Championships, and 3rd in the Olympic Road Race. He's consistently proven to be a great one-day racer…

    • Whit says:

      A fair point, Limonata, but allow me to push you a bit on this one: is it really fair to call him "great" at this point in his career? There are many riders in the sport with strings of second and third-place finishes in important races. But we don't always call them "great". For example, would you consider Leif Hoste to be a "great" cobbled classics rider? Most of us would probably say no–at least not yet.

      I'm not arguing that Kolobnev's only mediocre, simply that there's a difference between winning and placing well. Kolobnev has tremendous talent, but I'll need to see him win a major race or two before I call him truly "great".

      All of this begs the questions: how do we define greatness in cycling?

      Thanks for the comment–you raised an important question!

  3. Nick says:

    I think a casual fan should be able to remember a couple performances of a great rider a few years removed without much effort. That's my definition of a great rider for what's it worth.

  4. limonata says:

    You're right, Whit – When I said "great" I meant "consistent" and not great as in Bettini, Merckx, etc

  5. limonata says:

    I think we can safely agree on the statement that "Kolobnev's consistent results in one day races have him knocking on the door of greatness – a big win will place him in the record books forever."

  6. gadi says:

    Dear Whit
    as I recall , I can't see any comments regarding the conditional terms in which the marvelous Rodriguez J can win one of the big three and that is his inability regarding the TT

    • Whit says:

      Very wise to point that out, Gadi. Rodriguez will certainly need to improve against the clock if he wishes to have a chance. I imagine that's one of the main reasosn why his team wants him to focus on the Giro, as the ratio of mountains to TT's is considerably more in favor of the Spaniard's abilities.

      Great insight! Thanks!


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